The Sunday News
Residents of Matshiya and Sothani ward in Lupane District, Matabeleland North Province have lost count of the cattle losses they have suffered following chronic attacks on their livestock by spotted hyenas that break out of adjacent safari parks.
This has forced the residents to herd their cattle throughout the year, which is not a norm in most rural areas. The residents cannot afford, even for a single day, to allow their cattle to graze overnight, without being enclosed in their pens as they try to mitigate the effects of climate change-induced drought that has seen pastures dwindle, now without the capacity to feed their abundant herds of cattle. In the event that their cattle stray and stay unpenned just for a night, it will be certain that the hyenas would go on a hunting spree, killing not one beast out of the stray herd, but several beasts, abandoning some prey only half-eaten and leaving some prey completely untouched in a futile effort to quench their insatiable appetite, a scenario the residents have endured ever since.
Butho Ndlovu, a resident, revealed that the hyenas have adopted an art of detecting stray cattle by listening to their jingling bells at night, taking advantage of a human invention. He however remained sceptical about the idea of discarding the act of fitting bells on cattle necks as a tracking system to trick the hyenas out of their newly learned hunting technique before adopting an advanced cattle tracking system that is beyond the intellect of hyenas.
Arthur Ndlovu, a cattle herdboy, could not hide his displeasure over the number of cattle the residents lose to hyenas every year, although a piece of meat he was carrying on a white plastic bag, given to him as a token of appreciation for helping skin a heifer belonging to Ntombizodwa Moyo, his neighbour, the same hyenas had preyed on, the previous night, seemed to console him. He went on to express his gratitude to the Matshiya ward residents who, when hearing the bellowing heifer being attacked by hyenas in that fateful night, risked their lives, whistled to alarm the rest, a community norm, and plunged into darkness in the dead of the night, armed with dim lit torches and blunt spears to scare away the predators and rescue the heifer. He however, bemoaned their late arrival at the scene to find the hyenas having ripped open the heifer’s belly and already feeding on the gushing out entrails of the still struggling beast. The unrepentant hyenas could not just abandon their kill before executing a few gestures of resistance that could not deter the brave rescuers.
The relationship between the residents and the hyenas remain tense, and if the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management does not take action to resolve this inherent human-wildlife conflict, the resident are bound to retaliate to save their cattle, the only asset they subsist on. The resident seem not prepared to continue losing cattle to this remorseless matriarchal hyena kingdom perpetually.
Among those whose cattle have been attacked by hyenas are the beneficiaries of the command livestock programme, who expressed fear over their imminent failure to pay for the cattle, as the hyenas seem bent on frustrating this noble Government initiative. The residents propose that a healthy relationship between them and the hyenas can only be achieved if the concerned departments could erect communal paddocks to control the movement of their cattle, such that they cannot easily wander away and fall victim to hyenas. The much anticipated action coupled with the timely compensation for any losses suffered in the hands of hyenas using the proceeds accumulated through the Command Areas Management Programme for Indigenous Resources (Camfire) would create harmony between the two: Lupane residents and the wildlife. The arrangement will not only contain the soaring hatred but will also act as an incentive to the residents to commit themselves in conserving wildlife.
Apparently their cattle remain at risk of contaminating diseases from hyenas, especially beasts that survive hyena attacks, slipping off the bone-crushing teeth of a hyena, but not without sustaining skin deep cuts by a hyena’s sharp front canines. It is evident, it is out of the residents’ options to dispose of the full carcass to prevent the health hazards.
Mabhikwa High School, Lupane.